Building trust, easing suspicions?
“Chinese President Xi Jinping’s U.S. visit is not the prime concern of American media,” said a Washington correspondent when I called him to prepare for the U.S.-China summit meeting on September 25. Pope Francis’ U.S. visit outshone the summit meeting in the news reporting, he said.
The Chinese government put a great significance on Xi’s U.S. visit, comparing it to Deng Xiaoping’s visit in 1979. Deng’s visit was China’s debut in the Western world, and Beijing wanted to make Xi’s state visit an occasion to mark China’s emergence as an equal leader of the international community with the United States.
Despite the Papal visit, China must have felt a bit disappointed this time. When Xi made the first visit in 2013, he was passionately welcomed. While it was a state visit this time, the reception was not as festive. At the news conference after the summit meeting, President Barrack Obama’s face remained rigid. As he left the conference, he didn’t even meet Xi’s eyes. The televised conference suggested the atmosphere of the summit meeting.
The outcomes of the meeting were not so satisfactory for China. President Obama mentioned all the topics that China feels uncomfortable with, such as human rights and Tibet. The tension overshadows certain positive outcomes such as launching a regular meeting on industrial espionage prevention and cutting carbon emissions.
China defined President Xi’s U.S. visit “a trip to build trust and clear suspicions.” But it actually exposed that more suspicions than trust exist between the two great powers. When President Obama discussed the agreement on cybersecurity, he didn’t forget to add, “The question now is, are words followed by actions.”
The United States still tends to perceive China as a challenger to the existing order. Perhaps the country’s defense mechanism has kicked in, and it is unwilling to share the status of sole superpower. So no matter how Xi emphasizes peace and promises not to seek hegemony, the United States will not trust him. A foreign reporter who covered the military parade on Sept. 3 said that he wondered how to interpret the talks of peace while showing off weaponry and if China was underestimating the Americans. He may represent what most Americans really feel.
Winning trust is not an easy feat. President Xi may find it unfair that international society doesn’t trust him. But he needs to keep making efforts. At the news conference, both Obama and Xi said that they would avoid the Thucydides trap. They pledged not to repeat the armed clash of a rising power and an established power as seen with Sparta and Athens. The pledge may be the most significant outcome of the summit meeting.
*The author is the Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 6, Page 30
by YEH YOUNG-JUNE